Unfortunately, Basketball-Reference doesn’t have a pace-adjusted scoring metric. I normalize most of my stats to an estimated 75 possessions played, which for points produces a “scoring rate,” per se. For instance, Wilt Chamberlain averaged over 50 points per game in 1962. But he played more than 130 possessions a game using the simple method of pace estimation. That comes out to about 28.1 pts/75, not enough to make the cut here.
Up to that point in NBA history, Chamberlain’s number was the highest scoring rate. Individual players just didn’t score as much — teams were more balanced before expansion and the advent of the 3-point line. So Wilt’s season did stand out in its time. For comparison, some other notable pre-1980 players and their highest career mark:
- Bob McAdoo 26.7 in 1975.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 25.4 in 1972.
- Rick Barry 25.3 in 1975.
- Tiny Archibald 25.0 in 1973.
- Elgin Baylor, 24.7 in 1962.
- Jerry West 23.4 in 1965.
- Oscar Robertson 21.5 in 1968.
Listed below are the top scoring rate seasons in NBA history, measured in points scored per 75 possessions. “Rel TS%” is True Shooting% (TS%) relative to the league average. For example, if league average is 50% TS, and a player boasted a TS% of 53%, he would have a Rel TS% of 3%.
Yes, Michael Jordan owns seven of the eight best normalized scoring seasons ever. Not too shabby. Two other names that might surprise people are LeBron James and Karl Malone. Malone has three top-30 seasons, all at ridiculous shooting efficiency. James was a scoring machine before winning his first MVP, and holds four top-30 seasons.
What about playoff rates? Let’s only consider players who have played in at least two postseason series in a given playoff. If we do that, we get the following select club over 30 pts/75:
Playoffs (minimum 2 series played)
Again, MJ occupies more than half of the list, with LeBron’s 2009 epic playoff run topping the list. Some notable single-series performances that did not qualify: Jordan vs. Boston in 1986 (35.7 pts/75), Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Dallas in 1988 (34.9) and Dwyane Wade in 2009 (vs. Atlanta) and 2010 (vs. Boston) posted 31.2 pts/75 in both series.
The big Chicken and Egg question here: Are top-end scorers better than they were in the past, or have changes in the game simply facilitated more individual dominance?